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The Abstraction Disconnect is Silly

This blog originally appeared on the Amalgam Insights site on May 8, 2018   Over the past two weeks I’ve been to two conferences that are run by an open source community. The first was the CloudFoundry Summit in Boston followed by KubeCon+CloudNativeCon Europe 2018 in Copenhagen. At both, I found passionate and vibrant communities of sysops, developers, and companies. For those unfamiliar with CloudFoundry and Kubernetes, they are open source technologies that abstract software infrastructure to make it easier for developers and sysops to deliver applications more quickly. Both serve similar communities and have a generally similar goal. There is some overlap – CloudFoundry has its own container and

The Breadth and Width of Kubernetes

This blog was previously posted on Amalgam Insights Standing in the main expo hall of KuberCon+CloudNativeCon Europe 2018 in Copenhagen, the richness of the Kubernetes ecosystem is readily apparent. There are booths everywhere, addressing all the infrastructure needs for an enterprise cluster. There are meetings everywhere for the open source projects that make up the Kubernetes and Cloud Native base of technology. The keynotes are full. What was a 500-person conference in 2012 is now, 6 years later, a 4300-person conference even though it’s not in one of the hotbeds of American technology such as San Francisco or New York City. What is amazing is how much Kubernetes has grown

GraalVM is a Technology to Watch


This was originally published on the Amalgam Insights site on April 17, 2017. Oracle Labs has recently (April 17, 2018) announced the 1.0 release of GraalVM. GraalVM is an open source language virtual machine(VM), much like the Java VM or Node.js virtual machine. What makes GraalVM interesting, is that it can execute code written in a variety of languages including Java (and Java VM based languages such as Scala, Groovy, or Kotlin), R, JavaScript, along with Ruby, R, and Python. This is a departure from mainstream VM designs. It is much more common to have separate and specific VMs for languages such as PHP or Python. In some cases, a

Latest Projects

I know, I’ve been quiet. That’s because I have been working on a paper about Infrastructure as Code, a big step forward in infrastructure management. In the meantime, my latest CMSWire article is out and it’s on technologies that help in testing. Find it on CMSWire. Keep your eyes open for the paper in a few weeks.

Well That Explains Why It Didn’t Work

Busted Acer Piece of Junk

Full disclosure: This is a bit of a rant. It has nothing to do with the work I do for Amalgam Insights or the areas I typically cover. Think of it as a cautionary tale instead. Just a bit under four years ago, I bought my college bound daughter a brand new laptop. It was an Acer Aspire with 8G of RAM and a one terabyte hard drive. Four years ago, that was pretty good; Today it’s just normal. One of the reasons I chose the Acer is that I had such good luck with them in the past. I still have a functioning, 15-year old Acer laptop that I

Well That Explains Why It Didn’t Work

Busted Acer Piece of Junk

Full disclosure: This is a bit of a rant. It has nothing to do with the work I do for Amalgam Insights or the areas I typically cover. Think of it as a cautionary tale instead.

Just a bit under four years ago, I bought my college bound daughter a brand new laptop. It was an Acer Aspire with 8G of RAM and a one terabyte hard drive. Four years ago, that was pretty good; Today it’s just normal.

One of the reasons I chose the Acer is that I had such good luck with them in the past. I still have a functioning, 15-year old Acer laptop that I use to stream Spotify to my stereo. That laptop has been around the world with me and was even dropped on it’s side in Taiwan to no ill effect. Well, except for my foot. That hurt for awhile.

This new Acer, however, was not like my old workhorse. Instead, it was trouble from the get go. First, the hard drive failed a few months into it’s tenure. I had to jump through hoops to prove to Acer that it was the hard drive and had to argue with them about paying the shipping costs. They wanted me to pay to send it to the repair depot. Seriously!

Quick tip: When something is under warranty and it doesn’t expressly say that you have to pay to ship it to the repair depot, they might have to cover it.

Then, there was the Windows 10 upgrade fiasco. The update started on it’s own and bricked the computer. It took me two solid days on the phone and chat with Microsoft to get it to it’s pristine Windows 8 condition. While that wasn’t Acer’s fault, it’s not like they weren’t expecting the Windows 10 upgrade in just a few months after selling the laptop to me. Better testing or a warning that it wasn’t Windows 10 compatible would have been nice.

After getting the laptop back from Acer with a new hard drive in it, the display started acting funny. Not right away mind you but just after the warranty was up. While using the computer, the display would go white. If you closed the lid and opened it again, it would be fine… for a while. Then, it would do it again. Everything was fine if there was an external display plugged in but otherwise it kept turning white. A truly irritating problem since an external display is hard to carry on a trip or to the library. After a few months of that, I bought my daughter a new HP laptop and she’s been happy with it. At the time I threw in the towel on the Acer, it was only two years old.

I decide that I might be able to live with the quirks of the laptop since I was only going to use it for occasional traveling and not everyday use. Of course, just a few months before a bunch of travel was scheduled, power problems began. Basically, the computer would no longer charge. At this point, I just gave up and bought a new Dell for traveling.

Today, I did a tear down of the Acer, mostly to salvage parts. I discovered the roots of the various evils of this rather forlorn laptop. First, it was obvious that something had damaged the cable running from the display to the motherboard. It had been inexpertly wrapped in electrical tape. When the display was moved around, even a little it would disconnect from the motherboard and reconnect when the lid closed.  Since this problem originally presented itself after the first repair, I tend to think it had something to do with said repair.

The root cause of the power problem was also readily apparent. The barrel connector for the power supply was not fully secured to the frame of the laptop. It allowed the connector to wiggle around just enough to finally break the connection to the battery charging electronics.

Bad design or lousy workmanship? You decide. Either way that, plus a failed hard drive and a repair that may have damaged the display cable, pretty much soured me on Acer products for a long time.

The moral of the story is: If you have a major component fail in the warranty period, just demand a new laptop or your money back. This “ship it to us and we will fix it” policy seems designed to repair it just long enough to get to the end of the warranty. I have laptops that are still in use that are 15 and 8 years old. Heck, I have a functioning laptop from 2001 and another from 2002! They are too under-powered to be useful but they still run. There is no reason to expect a modern computer to last barely longer than the warranty period.

I can’t send the computer back (and it’s in pieces now) but I certainly can make my ire known with my wallet. No more Acer for me.

Blockchain! What is it Good For?


This blog post was also published on Amalgam Insights.

Blockchain is one of those up and coming technologies that is constantly being talked about by vendors and pundits. Many of the largest IT companies – IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle to name few – plus an industry group or two are heavily promoting blockchain. Clearly, there is intense interest, much of it fueled by exotic sounding cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum. The big question I get asked – and analysts are supposed to be able to answer the big questions – is “What can I use blockchain for?”

To begin with, the best applications of blockchain are those that require an authenticated source. Blockchain (sort of) provides an immutable proof of the a virtual or material object’s authenticity. Using cryptography to generate unbreakable codes (for the moment) that take a lot of resources to generate insures that hacking the authenticity of a blockchain is not feasible. This is what made it attractive as a currency. Blockchain makes it hard to create a forgery of the “coin” while supporting changes of ownership.

Another indicator that blockchain may be useful for an application is when lack of a central authority to manage transactions is desirable or unattainable. Blockchain allows for participants to interact as peers without a clearinghouse to moderate the transactions. Credit cards, for example, are transactions between consumers who want to buy something and merchants who want to sell them. Visa, American Express, Discover, and Mastercard enable these transactions by clearing them between the banks of the buyer and seller. Without the clearinghouse, credit cards wouldn’t work. In the case of Bitcoin, changes in ownership are recorded in the blockchain that underlies the currency and distributed to all parties participating in Bitcoin.

I’m oversimplifying the complexity of blockchain, of course. That doesn’t change the fact that the best blockchain applications will be those that require authentication and lack a central authority to grant it. Some examples of these type of applications are:

  • Material supply chains. Blockchain holds promise as a way to inhibit counterfeit parts from entering the supply chain. The blocks in the chain represent parts that can be transferred from owner to owner. This would produce a history of where the part originated and where it has been as it moved through the supply chain. A hash can identify the part and the ledger agreed to by all participants in the supply chain since they all have a copy of it.
  • Transportation. Similar to material supply chains, blockchain shows potential to help track shipments along a series of routes, even while the shipments change hands between different carriers. This can keep shipments from being diverted or stolen.
  • Smart contracts. Blockchains can represent a contract, it’s amendments, and agreement to the final document. Unlike many electronic contracts, all parties would have a complete copy of the entire history of the agreements made within the contract and it will be hard to dispute the “signatures” later. The contract can be agreed to without a third party, such as Docusign, or the potential for forged signatures.
  • Professional credentials. It is not news that job seekers will sometimes inflate or falsify their academic credentials. In some cases, job seekers go so far as to claim doctorates that they never earned. Now, imagine how easy it might be to claim technical credentials that are conferred by training organizations that may not exist forever. There are also plenty of professions such as medical, dental, and law, where a constant stream of new learning is required to maintain licensing. In all of these cases, blockchain could be used to create a trustworthy method of verifying credentials that can easily be shared with anyone to prove their authenticity.
  • Personal identification. Almost everyone has had their email system hacked at some point or another. This is an example of someone stealing an aspect of someone’s electronic identity. The same is true for credit card numbers, social security numbers, and other forms of personally identifying information. If personal identification was actually a blockchain, this would be much more difficult since thieves would have to steal something that is never shared online. Blockchain hold the promise of online authentication that is harder to hack then even two-factor authentication.

Some of these are purely speculative though plausible. Others, especially the professional credentials, transportation, and material supply chains applications are already under development.

Like so much interesting technologies, the hype is a bit early and probably overstates the technology. We shouldn’t let the hype undermine blockchain’s potential nor dissuade developers from exploring its usefulness. There are so many instances where authentication of transactions is hard but necessary and a central authority doesn’t exist or is undesirable. These are just the early emerging applications – the low hanging fruit – and it is hard to predict the good ideas developers will come up with for blockchain.